Tag Archives: Boeing

NASA expands first manned Starliner mission

NASA has modified its contract with Boeing to allow its first manned Starliner test mission to add an astronaut and extend the mission’s length so that it more resembles an operational flight to ISS.

NASA is considering adding a third crew member to the Starliner’s “Crew Flight Test” and could extend its trip to the International Space Station from two weeks up to six months, the length of a typical ISS expedition. The potential changes, outlined in a contract modification with Boeing, could help NASA maintain its presence on the International Space Station through 2019 and beyond.

NASA’s last purchased ride aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft, upon which the U.S. has relied for access to the ISS since the shuttle’s retirement in 2011, is scheduled to launch in the fall of 2019.
Boeing’s new Starliner spacesuit features lightweight fabric, slim gloves and sneaker-like boots. But Boeing’s Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon may not be certified to fly four-person crews until after that. “This contract modification provides NASA with additional schedule margin if needed,” said Bill Gerstenmaier, head of human spaceflight operations at NASA headquarters in Washington. “We appreciate Boeing’s willingness to evolve its flight to ensure we have continued access to space for our astronauts.”

Doing this makes some sense, but I wonder why NASA chose to do it with Boeing’s Starliner instead of SpaceX’s Dragon. Starliner has never flown in any form, while the manned Dragon is based on SpaceX’s well tested design.

I suspect NASA will soon modify its SpaceX contract as well. It makes sense. Once you put humans on board, you might as well give yourself the option to do a full mission.

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First commercial crew flights still set for 2018 with chance of delay

NASA’s manager of the commercial crew program provided an update to the agency’s advisory board on Monday, noting that both SpaceX and Boeing are making good progress to their scheduled first flights late this year.

The bottom line however is that there is a good chance the flights will slip into 2019, though based on the update it appears to me that the flights will not slip that much beyond that.

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World’s largest jet engine makes first test flight

The world’s largest jet engine, built by GE Aviation for Boeing’s next generation wide body passenger jet, made its first test flight last week.

The GE9X is a monster compared to its predecessors. Due to the extensive use of composites in building the fan blades and the fan case, 3D-printed nozzles, new light- and heat-resistant ceramics, and reducing the number of fan blades from 22 to 16, GE was able to lighten the engine and expand its size so that its fan is now 134-inches (341 cm) across and the entire engine is as wide as a Boeing 737 fuselage. In addition, it can push 100,000 lb of thrust and is 10 percent more efficient than the GE90 engine used on the current generation of 777s.

The engine was attached to a 747 test plane for the flight, and the images at the link truly illustrate how large this engine is. The 747 still had its two outer normal engines attached, and the size difference is gob-smacking. When I first looked at the pictures I was convinced it was fake and that they had photoshopped this giant engine onto the 747. They didn’t.

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Atlas 5 man-rated upgrades approved by NASA for Starliner launches

Capitalism in space: ULA announced this week that its Atlas 5 rocket has passed a NASA review that now approves the design changes necessary to allow that rocket to launch Boeing’s Starliner manned capsule.

“Design Certification Review is a significant milestone that completes the design phase of the program, paving the way to operations,” said Barb Egan, ULA Commercial Crew program manager. “Hardware and software final qualification tests are underway, as well as a major integrated test series, including structural loads. Future tests will involve launch vehicle hardware, such as jettison tests, acoustic tests, and, finally, a pad abort test in White Sands, New Mexico.”

Launch vehicle production is currently on track for an uncrewed August 2018 Orbital Flight Test (OFT).

The schedule to make that August flight happen still remains tight, but this approval brings it one step closer.

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First flights of commercial manned capsules in 2018

According to a NASA presentation last month, it appears that both SpaceX and Boeing are aiming to complete both their first unmanned and manned flights this coming year.

The schedules remain tight, but SpaceX plans to do its first unmanned demo mission in April, followed by a manned flight in August, while Boeing’s first unmanned flight is set for August, with the first manned flight in November. If these schedules happen 2018 should be quite an exciting year.

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Sea Launch will assemble rockets in U.S.

Capitalism in space: S7, the Russian company that now owns Sea Launch, announced today that it plans to assemble its rockets in United States.

This means the dock for the floating launch platform will remain in California. The article also indicates that S7 will continue to use Ukrainian Zenit rockets, which the platform was designed for, despite the desire of the Russian government to cut off all dependence on Ukrainian technology. There is also this tidbit:

The S7 company, which is about to resume the Sea Launch program, has enough clients, S7 Group co-owner and chair of the board of directors Natalia Filyova told the press. “We have [launch] orders, there is a long line [of clients], and we offer a good price. We are expecting revenue, but this will not happen right away. We will be investing heavily but we realize that we will make money,” Filyova said.

No details of the clients or the launch schedule were announced, however, so I remain skeptical. Meanwhile, Roscosmos announced today that it is negotiating with Boeing for future space tourism flights. This second story is directly related to Sea Launch, but you would only know this if you read Behind the Black. To pay off Boeing, which used to be a half partner in Sea Launch and was owed $320 million by the Russians, Roscosmos gave Boeing an unspecified number of seats on future Soyuz capsules to sell to others. Two of those seats were sold to NASA.

These new negotiations probably are an effort to arrange further sales for Boeing to help it get its money back. Boeing’s lawsuit for that money has placed a lien on the Sea Launch platform, and until its concerns are satisfied, S7 really can’t begin operations.

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United flies its last 747

United yesterday completed its last scheduled 747 passenger flight, ending a period lasting almost a half century since the first 747 took off.

The flight had a 1970s theme, with the crew in vintage uniforms and the passengers dressing in costumes invoking that time period.

The article does a nice job of recounting the 747’s history, as well as why it is being replaced. It also noted this:

[T]he aircraft would go on to defy all expectations. Boeing anticipated it would become obsolete before the Nineties, believing that supersonic jets would overtake conventional aircraft.

In fact the 747 is still in production with current orders placed by a number of developing countries which will potentially see it serving into 2030. While the aircraft’s life is limited in the US – with Delta the only airline still flying the craft and due to retire it later this year – other major carriers will continue operating it well into the next decade. British Airways, which now operates 36 of the aircraft, more than any other airline, has confirmed it will be phasing it out – but will not part ways with it entirely until 2024.

Even once it has disappeared from passenger routes, it is expected the 747 will go on to serve many more years as a cargo plane.

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Boeing’s Starliner undergoing drop tests

Capitalism in space: Boeing’s Starliner manned capsule yesterday successfully completed the 11th of 14 drop tests in preparation for launch.

The article includes extensive comments by two NASA astronauts who are working with Boeing on these drop tests. I found this quote interesting:

[Sunita] Williams and [Eric] Boe said there are benefits and drawbacks to either type of landing, but they preferred land over water. Williams speaks from experience: She has already made a land landing aboard a Russian Soyuz capsule. “When you land on land, maybe it’s a little bit harder,” Williams said. “But when you’re coming down at high speed, the water’s hard, too.

“Landing on water, if somebody’s right there to rescue you and they know exactly where you’re coming down, that works. And we’ve shown that works with the Apollo program. But, landing on water — I’m a Navy guy, there’s a big ocean out there and it’s a little space capsule and there’s some definite risks to that, too.

“Landing on the Soyuz, you open the hatch, you smell the grass, you’re not in a huge rush to get out or stay in. You know you’re in a solid place and you know you can take your time getting out and the rescue forces will be there eventually, if they’re not there knocking on the door.”

The article also noted that Boeing plans to refurbish each capsule and reuse it up to ten times.

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Boeing delays first manned Starliner flight

Capitalism in space: It appears that Boeing has pushed back the first manned flight of its Starliner capsule from August 2018 to early 2019.

In an interview at the conference, Ferguson said that the company’s current schedule calls for a pad abort test at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico in the second quarter of 2018. That would be followed by an uncrewed orbital test flight of the vehicle, launched on an Atlas V, in the third quarter of 2018. “If the results of that are very favorable,” he said of the uncrewed flight test, “our crewed flight test is fourth quarter — perhaps, depending on the outcome, maybe the first quarter of the following year.”

This schedule appears to be an overall three to five month delay in their program.

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Schedule for commercial manned flights solidifies

Capitlism in space: It appears that the schedule for the first unmanned and manned test flights of the commercial capsules being built by SpaceX and Boeing is getting more certain.

The latest SpaceX schedule calls for an uncrewed test flight in February 2018, followed by a crewed test flight in June 2018. Boeing’s schedule anticipates an uncrewed test flight in June 2018 and a crewed test flight in August 2018.

While this sounds encouraging, the story contradicts a Boeing report last week that suggested their first manned flight would be delayed into the fourth quarter of 2018. Both stories however pin the first unmanned demo flight for June 2018, which now seems to be a firm date.

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NASA and Boeing to replace damaged antenna on NASA satellite

Due to an accident during satellite launch preparations, NASA and Boeing are planning to replace a damaged antenna on NASA’s TDRS-M satellite, used by NASA mainly for communications between the ground and ISS.

The update at the link however says nothing whether the satellite will still launch on August 3, as presently scheduled. Nor have they released any information about the accident itself.

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First Starliner manned flight delayed to late 2018

Boeing has revealed that the first manned flight of its commercial Starliner capsule will likely be delayed a few more months to late 2018.

The latest confirmed schedules from NASA show the uncrewed mission, dubbed the Orbital Flight Test (OFT), slated for No Earlier Than June 2018, followed quickly in August 2018 by the crewed flight test.

However, comments made by Chris Ferguson last month at the Paris Air Show seem to indicate that the crewed flight test is moving from its August timeframe. According to Mr. Ferguson, Director of Crew and Mission Operations for Boeing’s Commercial Crew Program, the first Starliner crewed test flight is aiming for “last quarter of 2018” – which would be a shift of two to five months into the October to December 2018 timeframe.

The unmanned test flight, however, remains set for a June 18, 2018 launch.

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First test launches of commercial manned vehicles upcoming

The first unmanned test flights of the manned capsules being built by SpaceX and Boeing are moving forward and appear to be on schedule.

Currently, SpaceX is on track to be the first to perform their uncrewed flight, known as SpX Demo-1, with Dr. Donald McErlean reporting to the ASAP that the flight continues to target a launch later this year. Currently, both NASA and SpaceX hold that SpX Demo-1 will fly by the end of the year – though L2 level KSC scheduling claims the mission has potentially slipped to March 2018.

Regardless, SpX Demo-1 will be followed – under the current plan – by Boeing’s uncrewed OFT (Orbital Flight Test) in mid-2018.

The article is worth a careful read, as it describes in detail the political and bureaucratic maneuverings that are taking place to get the NASA bureaucracy to accept the work being done by these two private companies. Make sure especially that you read the section about NASA’s desire that the vehicles meet an imaginary safety standard where they will only lose a crew once every 270 flights. The NASA bureaucracy has claimed for the last few years that neither spacecraft is meeting this requirement, but according to this article it appears they are finally also admitting that the requirement has really little basis in reality.

According to the ASAP [Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel] meeting minutes, Dr. McErlean said that “While these LOC [Loss of Crew] numbers were known to be challenging, and both providers have been working toward meeting the challenge, it is conceivable that in both cases the number may not be met.”

However, Dr. McErlean cautioned the ASAP and NASA about rushing to judgement on the current and whatever the final LOC number for each vehicle is. “The ASAP is on record agreeing with the Program that one must be judicious in how one applies these statistical estimates. In the case of LOC, the numbers themselves depend very heavily on the orbital debris model used to develop the risk to the system [as] orbital debris is a driving factor in determining the potential for LOC. The orbital debris models have been used and validated to some degree, but they are not perfect. One must be wary of being too pernicious in the application of a specific number and must look at whether the providers have expended the necessary efforts and engineering activity to make the systems as safe as they can and still perform the mission.”

To that last point, Dr. McErlean reported that both providers indeed “expended the necessary efforts and engineering activity to make the systems as safe as they can.” Importantly, too, Dr. McErlean noted that there was no evidence that spending more money on closing the LOC gap for both providers “could [make] their systems considerably safer.”

The ASAP at large concurred with this finding and noted their pleasure at the progress made in closing the LOC gap for both Dragon and Starliner. [emphasis mine]

In other words, NASA’s safety panel is eventually going to sign off, no matter what. Note also that the GAO’s earlier complaints about Boeing’s parachute testing program have now apparently vanished.

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Boeing cuts management, streamlines its operations

Capitalism in space: In an effort to better compete, Boeing is eliminating a layer of management and cutting 50 jobs in its defense and aerospace division.

The changes split management into smaller units so they can make faster decisions in their specific fields. This includes separating their space and missile division from other activities. This quote however says it all about the accelerating competition in the space business.

The changes are designed to speed decision-making, [defense division head Leanne Caret] said in an interview. “Everything is moving faster,” she said of the competitive environment for defense contractors.

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Boeing wins DARPA contract to build reusable first stage spaceplane

Capitalism in space: DARPA has selected Boeing to build its XS-1 spaceplane concept, a reusable first stage that would launch vertically and land on a runway.

Boeing will develop its “Phantom Express” vehicle for phases 2 and 3 of DARPA’s Experimental Spaceplane 1 (XS-1) program, which has the goal of performing 10 flights in 10 days to demonstrate responsive and low-cost launch. Phase 2 will cover development of the vehicle and ground tests though 2019, with a series of 12 to 15 test flights planned for phase 3 in 2020.

DARPA spokesman Rick Weiss said the value of the award to Boeing is $146 million. The award is structured as a public-private partnership, with Boeing also contributing to the overall cost of the program, but Boeing declined to disclose its contribution. “As it’s a competitive market, we do not plan to disclose our investment,” Boeing Phantom Works spokeswoman Cheryl Sampson said. “We are making a significant commitment to help solve an enduring challenge to reduce the cost of space access.”

It makes sense that Boeing won the contract, since that company also built the X-37B and knows how to do this. Moreover, with this contract it appears that DARPA is following in the footsteps of NASA initial cargo and crew commercial contracts, where the companies were required to commit some of their own capital for development, the costs were kept low, and the resulting spacecraft belonged to the company to market to the launch industry.

In this case, Boeing is going to have a first stage that it can combine with many other available upper stages to produce a rocket that can compete both with SpaceX and Blue Origin.

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Parachute tests for Boeing Starliner

Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft has successfully completed a parachute test at New Mexico’s Spaceport America.

Uniquely, this test wasn’t conducted via the use of a helicopter of an aircraft – as seen with other vehicles, such as the Orion spacecraft. Boeing was not able to fit the Starliner test article into the hold of a C-130 or C-17 aircraft, so they instead used a 1.3-million-cubic-foot balloon, which is able to lift the capsule to its intended altitude.

The test went well, with Starliner released from the balloon, deploying two drogue parachutes at 28,000 feet to stabilize the spacecraft, then its pilot parachutes at 12,000 feet. The main parachutes followed at 8,000 feet above the ground prior to the jettison of the spacecraft’s base heat shield at 4,500 feet. Finally, the spacecraft successfully touched down.

The article once again makes note of NASA’s fake concern over the Atlas 5 rocket. The concern isn’t that the rocket isn’t reliable. The concern is that Boeing hasn’t yet gotten NASA’s certification that it is reliable. In other words, because NASA hasn’t signed a piece of paper stating the obvious fact that the Atlas 5 is safe, Boeing’s Starliner cannot be considered safe.

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NASA buys Soyuz seats from Boeing

NASA has purchased two additional seats from Boeing on a Russian Soyuz capsule and rocket to get astronauts to ISS beyond 2019.

The reason Boeing was able to sell Russian Soyuz seats is because they have obtained them from the Russians in a deal to settle Boeing’s $320 million lawsuit over ending the Russian/Boeing Sea Launch partnership.

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Sea Launch deal finalized?

The competition heats up? Two articles today in the Russia press suggest that either their settlement deal with Boeing over bankrupt Sea Launch is either on the verge of signing or the Russians are trying to pressure Boeing to an agreement by use of the press.

The first article says that a final agreement is about to be signed, but provides no date or indication from Boeing that they have agreed to terms. The second announces that the private Russian company that is acquiring Sea Launch from the Russian government to compete in the commercial launch market has been given a launch license by the Russian government, and will launch its first rocket from Baikonur later this year, using the Ukrainian Zenit-M rocket that was designed to fly from the Sea Launch floating platform. .This launch is intended as a test flight prior to restarting launches from the Sea Launch platform itself.

The complexity of this Sea Launch situation boggles my mind. Russia has sold Sea Launch to a private Russian airline company, S7, which will use a Ukrainian rocket to launch satellites from the Sea Launch platform. Before that can happen however Russia has to settle its dispute with Boeing, which won a $300+ million settlement in court over the breakup of their Sea Launch partnership. That settlement reportedly includes free passenger seats on Soyuz flights to ISS, which Boeing is reportedly offering to sell to NASA, which might need them. Meanwhile, Russia does not seem to have a problem with a Russian company using a Ukrainian rocket, even though Russia itself has completely banned the use of Ukrainian equipment on any of its own space rockets or capsules.

The business of commercial space sometimes amazes me.

Posted in the airport terminal in Belize City. We are waiting for everyone to arrive to take a van together to our resort, Maya Mountain Lodge.

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Killing both commercial space and American astronauts

This all reeks of politics: A new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released yesterday says that NASA it should not permit Boeing and SpaceX to fly humans on their capsules and rockets until they fix certain issues and test both repeatedly on unmanned flights before the first manned flights to ISS.

This GAO report was mandated by Congress, and it requires NASA to certify that both Boeing and SpaceX have met NASA’s requirements before allowing those first manned flights. While the technical issues outlined in the report — to which NASA concurs — might be of concern, my overall impression in reading the report, combined with yesterday’s announcement by NASA that they are seriously considering flying humans on SLS’s first test flight, is that this process is actually designed to put obstacles in front of Boeing and SpaceX so as to slow their progress and allow SLS to launch first with humans aboard.

For example, the report lists three main problems with the commercial manned effort. First there is the Russian engine on the Atlas 5. From the report itself [pdf]:
» Read more

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NanoRacks and Boeing to build private airlock on ISS

The competition heats up: NASA has signed an agreement with NanoRacks and Boeing to build private commercial airlock to attach to ISS in 2019 and be used for commercial operations.

Commercial opportunities through Airlock begin with cubesat and small satellite deployment from station and include a full range of additional services to meet customer needs from NASA and the growing commercial sector. Currently, cubesats and small satellites are deployed through the government-operated Japanese Kibo Airlock. Additionally, the crew on board may now assemble payloads typically flown in soft-stowage ISS Cargo Transfer Bags into larger items that currently cannot be handled by the existing Kibo Airlock. “We are very pleased to have Boeing joining with us to develop the Airlock Module,” says NanoRacks CEO Jeffrey Manber. “This is a huge step for NASA and the U.S. space program, to leverage the commercial marketplace for low-Earth orbit, on Space Station and beyond, and NanoRacks is proud to be taking the lead in this prestigious venture.”

Beyond station, the Airlock could at some future time, be detached and placed onto another on-orbit platform.

This is part of the overall transition at NASA from government-built and -run to privately-built and -run.

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Boeing unveils its spacesuit for Starliner missions

The competition heats up: Boeing today unveiled the streamlined but snazzy spacesuit it plans to use on its Starliner manned ferry flights to and from ISS.

This tidbit though I think illustrates the new mindset, to make things simpler and cheaper and more focused on their actual purpose.

Boeing’s suit, designed with the Massachusetts-based David Clark Co., weighs about 12 pounds, compared to 30 pounds for NASA’s orange suits formally called the Advanced Crew Escape Suit, or ACES. …The “get us home suit,” as Ferguson called it, couldn’t be used for a spacewalk. It’s intended to provide air and cooling to keep astronauts safe during launch and landings back on land, and during emergencies, like if a micrometeoroid strike caused a loss of cabin pressure.

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Boeing obtains available seats on Soyuz as result of Sea Launch settlement

As part of Boeing’s settlement with Russia over the break-up of their Sea Launch partnership, the company has obtained rights to several manned Soyuz seats that are available because the Russians have cut back on the number of astronauts they are flying to ISS.

In turn, Boeing is offering these seats to NASA.

[John Elbon, vice president and general manager of space exploration at Boeing] said he expects NASA to make enter into negotiations with Boeing about the 2017 and 2018 seats shortly after a Jan. 27 deadline for companies to respond to the sources sought statement, a requirement when a government agency proposes a sole-source procurement. “Assuming that goes well, I think we would sit down and, in relatively short order, negotiate the details of this kind of arrangement,” he said.

He didn’t specify how much Boeing was proposing to charge NASA for the seats. The agency announced an agreement with Roscosmos in August 2015 for six Soyuz seats in 2018 at a total cost of $490 million, or $81.7 million per seat. “It’s a good value for NASA and the taxpayer,” Elbon said of Boeing’s proposed deal with NASA. “We wouldn’t ask them to pay more than they would have been paying before.”

What is happening here is that Boeing is trying to use these Soyuz seats as a way to recoup its losses from Sea Launch. The problem is that NASA doesn’t really need the manned flights in 2017 and 2018. They might need them in 2019, should the manned capsules that SpaceX and Boeing are building get delayed, but I am not sure that this deal will allow them to be used at that time.

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Trump puts Boeing and Lockheed Martin in competition!

On Thursday President-elect Donald Trump said that, because of the high cost overruns in building Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighter, he has asked Boeing to submit an offer to build their F-18 instead.

The point here is not that Trump is going to change contractors. The point is that he is making them both aware that he can change contractors. Also, his meetings earlier this week with the CEOs of both Boeing and Lockheed Martin does not mean he is going to do what they want. Trump’s pattern has repeatedly been to meet with people who are likely going to be his opponents to ease their minds, and then sideswipe them immediately afterward with plans that they would have opposed. His meetings with Al Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio to discuss climate change did nothing to prevent him from picking a slew of climate skeptics for every single one of the cabinet posts involved in climate policy, people that both Gore and DiCaprio oppose strongly

Getting back to Boeing and Lockheed Martin, Trump’s actions in connection with their federal aviation contracts bodes well for commercial space. He is encouraging competition, a concept that the entire commercial space program is based on. I am willing to bet that when he finally begins setting NASA policy, he is going to demand SLS/Orion compete as well, or go by the wayside.

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Boeing files FCC application for 3,000 satellite constellation

The competition heats up: Boeing this week submitted its second application to the FCC for its own 3,000 satellite constellation to provide “a wide range of advanced communications and Internet-based services.”

The second application this week specifically requested permission to launch the first 60 satellites. The whole plan is comparable to the one that SpaceX submitted earlier this week, and puts these two companies in direct competition. If both plans are launched, it will mean that more than 6,000 satellites will need launch services to gain orbit, which also means the launch business could get very busy in the coming years.

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Boeing and Russia to partner on building lunar space station?

As part of a settlement with Boeing in the Sea Launch lawsuit, the Russians are proposing a partnership with the American company for building a lunar orbiting space station.

A preliminary dispute settlement deal was reached in August. “We are preparing a document which, apart from finalizing the court case, also creates a program for long-term cooperation on a wide range of issues. We are working on projects to cooperate in low earth orbit, create moon infrastructure and explore deep space,” Solntsev told the Russian Izvestia newspaper. The two companies now plan to create nodes and units capable of synchronizing space technologies, including a docking station for a proposed lunar orbiting station. Meanwhile, Sea Launch settlement documents are set to be signed before the end of November, according to Solntsev.

It will be very interesting to see the actual agreement. I also wonder how much Boeing can really do with Russia without U.S. government approval.

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No more manned Soyuz purchased by NASA after 2019

The competition heats up: Both Boeing and SpaceX better get their manned capsules working by 2019, because NASA at this point has no plans to buy more seats on Russian Soyuz capsules after the present contract runs out.

Even as the commercial crew schedules move later into 2018, NASA officials say they are not considering extending the contract with Roscosmos — the Russian space agency — for more launches in 2019. The last Soyuz launch seats reserved for U.S. astronauts are at the end of 2018.

It takes more than two years to procure components and assemble new Soyuz capsules, so Russia needed to receive new Soyuz orders from NASA by some time this fall to ensure the spacecraft would be ready for liftoff in early 2019.

The second paragraph above notes that even if NASA decided it needed more Soyuz launches, it is probably too late to buy them and have them available by 2019.

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